Ayla lifted her head up from the waste basket, fighting down another wave of nausea. There was no point denying it. Her moon blood had not come, her breasts were starting to become heavy and sore, and she has been having difficulties to keep anything down for the past two days. Should she be surprised? It has been a long time since she stopped drinking her special morning tea, the one that kept her from becoming pregnant while it was inconvenient.

And now it has happened. She was with child. She was sure of it, and she was frightened.

But then she thought about it. Why should she be frightened? She hadn't wanted to start a baby with Jondalar before they reached the Zelandonii, because it would make traveling almost impossible. For the same reason she had not wanted a baby started on her journey back to the Mamutoi. But now she was home, she was with her family. She was in a safe, warm place with plenty of food and her own space at the Mammoth hearth. There was nothing to prevent her from birthing and raising this baby. As she thought it, she felt thrilled. She had wanted another baby so badly. The gap left by Durc still ached, and she had so many unused resources. Well, now she was going to be a mother again – and this time, no one would take her child away from her.

Still, one thing remained to be done.

"Ranec?" she said quietly. She wasn't sure whether he was asleep or not.

"I didn't realize you were awake too, Ayla," he said, making a place for her to sit by his side on the sleeping platform. It was becoming comfortable to her, to sit with him like this... they have shared furs several times since their first nightly encounter, and though not much was said about where they were heading, both felt physical joy and emotional comfort at this closeness of being entwined in each other's arms.

It is better to tell at once, she decided. "I am with child, Ranec," she said.

His eyes widened in shock. "Does this – do you – are you – " he spluttered. "Ayla, do you mean to tell me you think you are carrying a baby of my spirit?"

She smiled. "I know it is your baby, Ranec. I have told you once, I believe life is started when men and women share Pleasures. I have shared Pleasures with nobody but you since I came back. The baby is yours, and I thought you ought to know it."

He took her hand. "Ayla," he said in a hoarse voice. "Be my woman. Come to my hearth, and bring this child to it."

She shook her head slightly. "There is no need to rush, Ranec," she said softly. "I'm not going anywhere. There is plenty of time to decide whether this is... this is what we both want."

"I know this is what I want," he told her firmly, "and this time, I know I want it for the right reasons. I used to want you as a trophy, as a perfect woman... but now I know there is no perfect. Now I love you, Ayla, not just for beauty and talent, but for goodness and kindness. And I have Ralev to think of. Do not be offended," he said quickly, "but I must consider him as well, when choosing a mate. I know you will be kind to him, as if he were your own. Not every woman would. And besides..." he took a deep breath. "You have suffered much, and so have I. You left, and you came back. And now you are expecting a child of my spirit. Is this not a sign from Mut? Is this not a plain message saying we should be together?"

Tears glistened in her eyes. In that moment, Ayla was coming to terms with what was, what had been, and what would never be. "Yes," she said.

He looked a little confused, as if he hardly dared believe. "Yes?"

"Yes, Ranec, I will be your woman. I will come to your hearth, and bring a baby to it, and be a mother to Ralev."

The Promise was soon made, to the general joy of the Lion Camp. The official joining would not be made until the Summer Meeting and the Matrimonial, but Ayla already moved to the Fox Hearth. In her heart, she and Ranec were now mated, and she knew he felt the same way.